‘You can’t get close, yet you can’t stay away’: Latino cultural beliefs clash with pandemic safety | US news

Priscilla Garcia checked up on her father after her mother was hospitalized with fainting spells. He wasn’t feeling well, either, so she made him chicken noodle soup with Texas toast, the way he liked it.

“He was so weak and scared here by himself,” Garcia said. “That’s why I came.”

Even though she wore a mask and gloves, she wound up sick four days later. Her father had given her Covid-19, but she didn’t regret taking care of him. Because had she not, she wept, “I would have never seen him again.”

A perfect storm of economic and cultural factors collided for a nightmarish summer in Garcia’s south Texas community, Hidalgo county, which is 92.5% Hispanic or Latino. Residents there account for just 3% of the state’s total population but roughly 8.6% of its known Covid-19 deaths. Ivan Melendez, the Hidalgo county health authority, said most transmission occurs through families.

“I think that poverty, proximity to the river, the large amounts of population growth that are undocumented, kind of forces families to bunch up together, which is exactly what you don’t want,” Melendez said.

Hidalgo county is part of the Rio Grande Valley, an impoverished region along Texas’s southern border with Mexico. Underlying health conditions such as diabetes and obesity abound, increasing the risk of serious illness from Covid-19. Meanwhile, 46.8% of local Latinos ages 19-64 lack health insurance – a number that shoots up to 71.8% among non-citizens – creating potentially serious financial and logistical roadblocks to seeking medical attention.

Tight-knit families are a cornerstone of Latino culture. Those bonds, which are usually advantageous, have also been weaponized by the pandemic. Entrenched in Latino ideals is the principle of familism, or prioritizing family above individual needs. And, unlike in much of mainstream America, Latino family structures often include a larger swath of extended family members, explained Bernadette Sánchez, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Amid life’s most troubling moments or difficult change, families offer comfort for Latino communities. But the rituals in place – quinceañeras, weddings – require assembly, Melendez said.

Likewise, there are “expectations and obligations about the family supporting one another”, said Sánchez, an ethos that can turn tragic when an essential worker gets exposed to the virus.

“You could be taking all the measures yourself to be cautious, but it’s not necessarily culturally acceptable to not be there for your family,” Sánchez said.

Houston medics prepare to transport a possible Covid-19 patient to the hospital. Several of the man’s family members also tested positive.

Houston medics prepare to transport a possible Covid-19 patient to the hospital. Several of the man’s family members also tested positive. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

Garcia called the safety restrictions required by the pandemic a double-edged sword: “you can’t get close, yet you can’t – don’t – wanna stay away”. She had stopped visiting her parents to avoid infecting them, but they both contracted Covid-19 anyway, as did her aunt, uncle and cousin.

Once Covid-19 enters a Latino home, it’s found an especially hospitable environment. “It is more typical to see a multigenerational household,” where grandparents reside with their children and grandchildren, and “maybe an uncle or aunt lives there, too”, Sánchez said.

In Hidalgo county, four or five members of a single family often get sick with the virus, Melendez said. There are government resources to help family members who need to isolate, but to access those, the community has to know they exist.

One in every 10 Latino households in the Valley hosts three or more generations, and 13.2% of homes have more than one occupant per room. In such cramped quarters, there’s little space for a “sick room” or “separate bathroom” to sequester, regardless of guidance published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“That’s not possible,” said Rogelio Sáenz, a professor of demography at the University of Texas at San Antonio, which then makes the situation “even more dangerous”.

These systemic inequalities aren’t confined to the Valley; the coronavirus pandemic has devastated Latinos, who are infected and hospitalized at much higher rates than white people, according to the CDC. Across Texas, Hispanics account for 54.5% of all deaths from Covid-19, while only 39.7% of the overall population is either Hispanic or Latino.

In Hidalgo county, Priscilla Garcia’s father was intubated first. Her mother suffered a heart attack. The couple was always together; they graduated, got married and worked out of the same house. But as they fought for their lives, they were relegated to separate hospitals.

“I had to be making their decisions for them while I was sick,” Garcia said. “It was really hard.”

Both parents died, just days apart. Then, after more than a month-long fight, Garcia’s aunt also succumbed to the virus. “It’s just so much going on that honestly you can’t even think right,” she said.

She’s at least found a sliver of peace in a picture that she found of her parents, from when they were young. Her father is holding her mother’s face, she thinks after he returned home from the army.

“It kinda gave me a little validation,” she said, “that they were together.”

Source: The Guardian

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